5,000 emails later, we’ve determined your pitch begins—or ends—with the subject line 

by | May 25, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

All PR pros covet the secret to putting together an email sure to catch the attention of a journalist. It’s why pitching is always a hot topic—professionals involved in media relations want to know how they can improve and what they can do to make their emails irresistible.

In 2019, we (that is, Agility PR Solutions) released original research in a report called, How to Get Journalists to Open, Click, and Love Your Email Pitch.

We analyzed thousands of emails sent through the integrated Agility media database and outreach platform to see what worked and if there were meaningful patterns among successful distributions. With how much the world and the media landscape has changed since then, we knew it was time to update the report and see what continued to hold true and what didn’t.

Our analysis took into consideration over 5,000 emails

We placed the most successful emails into two categories: top open rates and top clickthrough rates. A good open rate means the email successfully stood out from a crowded inbox, while a good clickthrough rate proves a journalist took interest in what the email said and wanted to know more.

A lot of the data supported what we already know about successful email pitching:

  • Most emails (74 percent) with top open rates came from an email address that was personal.
  • Subject lines were snappy and to the point and an average of 79 characters long.
  • Mid-week distributions were the norm and performed well with the top days being Tuesday (top open rates) and Thursday (top clickthrough rates).

But we also learned a few things that surprised us:

  • Most (85 percent) of the emails with impressive clickthrough rates were a copy-and-paste of a press release without any personalized greeting.
  • The emails were long. The average word count of emails with top clickthrough rates was 620 words.
  • PR pros are still practicing mass distributions—35.8 percent of emails with top open rates (21 percent or over) had email lists of over 500 contacts.

Our analysis may not have uncovered the secret to creating an irresistible email—much still depends on the savvy PR pro, their understanding of the outlet and journalist they are pitching, and their ability to find the newsworthy angle or story—but we can say with confidence a strong subject line is imperative. Without an eye-catching subject line, you won’t pique a journalist’s attention, and everything else (opens, clicks) relies on that.

As part of our report, we spoke with three PR professionals whose emails had all the right ingredients for success and each of them mentioned the importance of the subject line:

  • Belinda Boyd, Founder of 20-20 PR in the UK: “The subject heading should be crafted to succinctly summarize the story so that it not only stands out in the time-poor journalist’s burgeoning inbox, but also resonates with them AND the day’s news-flow.”
  • Kim Logan, Media & Comms Manager for Banff & Lake Louise Tourism: “It all starts with a compelling subject line—be specific and concise. I personally don’t include ‘press release’ in the subject line because that’s taking up characters…”
  • Kristen Learned, Specialist, Corporate Comms at Destination British Columbia: “Think about the type of headline you can envision being written about your story and use that as the subject line.”

For the rest of our findings and the full insights from the pros, download the report for free: How to Get Journalists to Open, Click, and Love Your Email Pitch: Second Edition.

Joy Knowles
Joy Knowles is the Content Marketing Manager at Agility PR Solutions. Joy has worked in an agency and been part of several internal communications teams during her career, helping to grow the companies’ client and customer bases through strategic communications, content planning and creation, social media management, and project and client management. Her education is in public relations.


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